After a week of urban combat, Iraqi troops raised the national flag over Ramadi’s government compound on Monday, declaring victory against a force of several hundred fighters from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The battle of Mosul would be “very, very challenging”, Zebari said.
The IS still controls much of northern and western Iraq, as well as vast swaths of neighboring Syria.
Victory in Ramadi, which was seized by Islamic State fighters in May, is the most significant triumph for Iraq’s U.S.-trained army since it collapsed in the face of an assault by the hardline Sunni Muslim militants 18 months ago.
Then in November, al-Abadi’s forces announced a major push to recapture Ramadi, warning residents to leave and advancing quickly across the Euphrates River. By Monday afternoon, as Rasool put it, Ramadi was “fully liberated” after ISIS fighters fled the government headquarters.
Iraq’s parliamentary speaker, Salim al-Juburi, said that Ramadi would be a “launch pad” for the taking of the north-western city.
Fighters brandishing rifles danced in the Anbar provincial capital as top commanders paraded through the streets after recapturing the city they lost to Isis in May. Soldiers could be seen slaughtering sheep in celebration near heavily damaged buildings.
General Lloyd Austin, head of US Central Command which is overseeing the US role in the campaign, said the fall of Ramadi “clearly demonstrates that the enemy is losing momentum as they steadily cede territory”.
Many of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s political rivals had questioned his strategy of excluding those groups and relying on the US-led coalition’s air power.
The White House said the USA “will continue to support our partners fighting against ISIL on the ground until it is defeated”, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
Pockets of resistance remain, but the majority of Ramadi is under government control for the first time since May, when IS militants punched their way into the city with a series of massive suicide auto bombs, scattering and humiliating Iraq’s beleaguered security forces.
When the city, located roughly 70 miles from Baghdad, fell to ISIS in May, it was a major setback for the administration’s efforts to contain and repel the jihadists as well as to Iraq’s military, still struggling to get back on its feet after months of humiliating defeats in 2014.
The Iraqis were also smart to move gradually against Ramadi. The further Iraq’s military extends its reach, the more its grip is likely to loosen on areas already held, he said.